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What 'Being American' Means In Los Angeles

We see a collage of six photos, 3 on the top and 3 below. The top left photo is of signs in Spanish on a business, top middle photo is an unfurled American flag with its bottom edge at ground level, in front of a sidewalk, top right are signs in Korean next to a traffic light with a sign that says Koreatown, bottom left is a sign in English and Chinese above a restaurant, bottom middle is a closeup of flowers in front of a flower shop with a sign in Farsi above it, and a small sign in English above that sign saying Happy Nowrooz, bottom right is a sign in Thai above a restaurant.
(Alborz Kamalizad and Chava Sanchez)
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It’s almost Thanksgiving, a time where we reflect on what we’re thankful for in America. I have a quick question for you.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of what it means to be an American? For me, it’s complex. Honestly, the only time I truly think about distinctly being American is when I’m in another country. I’ve traveled to Rwanda and China, and both of those times I was super aware of my privilege as an American. 

In America, I have to attach the “Black” part of my identity. It naturally comes with it because that’s the way I see the world and how the world sees me. In 2020, following the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, LAist produced an essay in a series that explored race and/or ethnicity called Race In LA. The essays were crowdsourced and written mostly by LAist readers.

For some of the essayists, one of the themes that emerged from that series was this issue of being “American enough” to those who were viewing them from the outside, just because of the color of their skin or the accent of their voice, regardless of how long they and their family had lived in this country. So now my colleague Leslie Berestein Rojas, LAist’s Immigrant Communities Correspondent, is leading a new series called “Being American”.

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For her, it’s growing up in Huntington Park, which has been a port of entry for immigrants for generations, especially families like hers that come from Latin American countries. Now, she’s on a mission to talk to others about what or who is American, especially after the last few tumultuous few years where we saw surges in racism against Black, Asian and Latino communities — both in our city and nationwide.

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“Being American” is a series that’s all about YOU and your stories about living in this melting pot called Los Angeles. Leslie talks about it with How to LA host Brian De Los Santos. Listen here.

The first essay in the series comes from Jose Cabrera. He writes about his experience playing on a ragtag team of working-class Latino kids in Maywood, California. Read about his experience here.

Do you have a great Angeleno American story in this city shaped by immigrants? If so, please share with us. You might be able to get featured in a future newsletter.

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below — just keep reading.

We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way.

More News

(After You Stop Hitting Snooze)

*At LAist we will always bring you the news freely, but occasionally we do include links to other publications that may be behind a paywall. Thank you for understanding! 

  • The elections are over but those ballot boxes are still all over the county. Why? It’s all about reinforcing the democratic process
  • LAist is continuing to keep you up-to-date with the latest election results. Here’s what we know and what we still need to find out for the local races. 
  • There are some new updates in the case of the 22-year-old driver who allegedly intentionally crashed his car into a group of L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy recruits and others, injuring several of them. His lawyer said he fell asleep at the wheel. (Los Angeles Times)  
  • After two weeks of withholding $1 billion, Governor Gavin Newsom has released funds to cities and counties for plans to reduce homelessness. There’s been a lot of back and forth between the governor and local officials on how specific and aggressive plans should be. 
  • A new CalMatters’ analysis of state data revealed that California prisoners struggling with mental illness are three times more likely to get shuffled around to different locations, which advocates said can be harmful. 
  • Read about the military veteran who disarmed the shooter who opened fire at Club Q in Colorado Springs this past weekend. His combat experience kicked in and he told himself to fight back. (The New York Times) 
  • The USA-Wales World Cup match Monday ended in a draw. Mexico plays this morning at 8 AM. As is their tradition, the Koreatown restaurant Guelaguetza will have a viewing party today and every time Mexico plays. 
  • U.S. Presidents have been pardoning Turkeys for decades. NPR’s Domenico Montanaro gives readers the lowdown on why presidents spare turkeys every Thanksgiving season.
  • European countries have chosen to not wear armbands that would promote diversity. Why? It has to do with being afraid of punishments from FIFA.
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Wait! One More Thing...Why This Family Doesn't Celebrate Thanksgiving

An old color photograph of five people standing outdoors. On the left is a man with brown skin wearing glasses, a beard, and a mustache. He's wearing a red shirt and white shorts. Next to him is an older woman with brown skin and glasses wearing a pink hat. A younger woman with brown skin holds a white-skinned child in overalls. There is a younger girl on the right with brown hair pulled back.
Gab Chabrán's family
(Courtesy Gab Chabrán)

‘Tis the season when it feels like everyone is running to every Ralphs, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in the city to get all the turkeys. It is madness.

But just because you and I celebrate this very American (and quite problematic!) holiday, doesn’t mean everyone in LA does. Gab Chabrán, our Associate Editor of Food and Culture, has a poignant story to tell about why his family has always opted out of Thanksgiving. It starts with his father Rafael Chabrán who is professor emeritus at Whittier College. For one, his father has difficult memories of growing up poor and on welfare and not being able to afford a meal on Thanksgiving. 

It was a painful and uncertain time for my father, grandmother, and his three younger siblings, whom my father helped look after. He recalls receiving food from Thanksgiving canned food drives where large baskets of discarded or damaged food had been dented, or were missing labels, would show up at their house. He recalled when they were given a can of whale meat.
— Gab Chabrán

As Gab’s father grew older, he had a political awakening as he wrestled with the origins of the holiday and what he calls the “Thanksgiving myth”. But he and his family still enjoyed sharing meals together so they made their own traditions. For Gab, it sometimes involved curries or dim sum. Read about his family’s journey here.

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